Remaking a dangerous craving: Pregnancy-safe sushi

While awaiting the birth of my kids, I kept wanting the Japanese rolls -- so I found a risk-free recipe

Topics: Guest Chef, Kitchen Challenge, International cuisine, Food,

Remaking a dangerous craving: Pregnancy-safe sushi

This winning entry for the Salon Kitchen Challenge – in which we asked readers to come up with their most interesting mayonnaise-based recipe  — comes to us courtesy of Linda Shiue. Check out this week’s Challenge here. We haven’t had a chance to try this recipe out yet, but we’d love to hear about it if you do!

When you’re pregnant, your body no longer belongs to you. Everything you do affects the baby, starting with what you eat and drink. Everything you think and feel seems to come from a part of your body you don’t normally think about otherwise, what you could call the Control Womb. The earliest signs of pregnancy all relate to eating. There’s the unbelievable hunger, which is far more insatiable than necessary for the only 300 extra calories a developing baby needs. (I know, only 300 calories?) There’s morning sickness, which might exist simply to stop you from eating 24-7. And there are cravings, one of the most powerful forces of all.

During my pregnancies, my cravings overwhelmed me, and led to both food aversions and preferences. All were surprising. It was simply unfair that chocolate, of all things, tasted like metallic cardboard to me. And the things I craved, while tasty, were far from my usual fare. I normally like to eat healthy food, prepared either in the simple and fresh style of California cuisine, or from a wide variety of ethnic flavors. But when I was pregnant, I wanted, needed and could not stop thinking about foods like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, pizza, cheeseburgers and milkshakes. I also had some dangerous cravings, for things that are off limits to pregnant women because of the danger of infection. This included tuna, brie and, worst of all, raw fish.

I always liked sushi. Now I felt like I needed it, but couldn’t have it. It seems obvious that raw fish might not be the safest choice for a pregnant woman, with the possibility, though slim, of harboring parasites, as well as the usual bacteria. So I didn’t succumb to my true desire for sake (salmon), hamachi (yellowtail), and maguro (tuna), especially spicy tuna rolls. Instead I stuck with the cooked choices, all safe to eat: unagi (eel), tamago (egg), and California rolls.

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Two favorites at any sushi bar are spicy tuna rolls and California rolls. What these two have in common, besides being fusion sushi, is that they both make use of a surprising ingredient: mayonnaise. You can use any mayonnaise for these rolls (note to the pregnant: homemade mayonnaise carries the risk of salmonella and is off limits), but if you can, Japanese mayonnaise is the way to go. The most famous brand is Kewpie, which comes in a familiar plastic squeeze bottle with a red top and a sketch of that adorable Kewpie doll.

It’s available at Japanese groceries and even online. It tastes a bit sweeter than standard mayonnaise, and includes a couple of different ingredients. Unlike regular mayonnaise, Japanese mayonnaise contains rice vinegar and (gasp!) MSG. Don’t shake your head at the MSG: It provides the umami that makes Kewpie the runaway choice for Japanese food. And its sweetness is a nice foil to the flavors of sushi: the briny taste of raw fish, the strident saltiness of soy sauce, and the sharp heat of pickled ginger and wasabi.

So here’s a recipe that I wish I had thought of when I was pregnant: spicy California rolls. Without any raw fish, they’re safe even during pregnancy, but with a spicy kick that could have fooled me into thinking I was eating a forbidden spicy tuna roll. This is a great way to enjoy the magic of Japanese Kewpie mayonnaise. Umami!

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Spicy California Rolls

Makes 4 rolls, totaling 32 pieces

4 cups prepared sushi rice (see below)
2 ripe avocados, cut into strips
16 crab sticks (imitation crab meat)
2 seedless cucumbers, cut into matchstick-size pieces
4 sheets nori (dried seaweed)
8 tablespoons Kewpie mayonnaise
8 tablespoons white sesame seeds
Spicy Sauce (see below)

1. Unroll a bamboo sushi mat and cover with plastic wrap.

2. Place a sheet of nori on top of the mat. Spread the sushi rice over the sheet of nori, press firmly, and sprinkle the sesame seeds over the surface. Turn the whole thing over so that the nori is on top. (If you don’t have a bamboo rolling mat, just use a sheet of plastic wrap on a flat work surface; it won’t be as easy to roll perfectly-shaped rolls, but will still be delicious.)

2. About 1/3 of the way up from the bottom, place the avocado, cucumber and crab sticks in lengthwise lines, so that every cut will include some of each. Lightly coat the filling with mayonnaise.

3. Roll the mat (or rice/nori sheet) forward; gathering all the fillings in the first roll and pressing firmly into a cylinder. (Be careful not to actually roll the plastic wrap into the sushi roll!)

4. Remove sushi roll from the mat.

5. Cut sushi roll into eight pieces.

6. Squirt a dab (or more) of Spicy Sauce on the cut sushi.

Accompaniments: soy sauce, wasabi, pickled ginger, some extra Spicy Sauce.

Sushi Rice

Expert tip No. 1: To cook sushi rice, it is important to remember that the rice should be cooked with less water than usual, and vinegar should be added while the rice is hot. Here is how to cook the perfect sushi rice.

2 cups Japanese rice, such as Nishiki brand
2¾ cups water
1/2 cup rice vinegar (unflavored)
2½ tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt

1. Wash the rice and cook in water in a rice cooker or on the stove.

2. Heat the vinegar, sugar, and salt in a pan on low heat until the sugar dissolves. Cool the vinegar mixture.

3. When rice is cooked, turn it into a large bowl and season it with the vinegar mixturew while still hot. Be careful to mix lightly so you don’t mash the rice. Gently turn the spatula as if scooping the rice rather than blending it. Expert tip No. 2: While folding vinegar into the rice, cool the rice using a hand fan. Fanning the rice prevents it from becoming overly sticky, and also adds luster.

4. Use sushi rice immediately; don’t store it in the refrigerator. Cover it with a damp cloth if you won’t be using it for 10 minutes or more, to prevent it from drying out.

Makes 4-6 servings.

Spicy Sauce

Makes about 2/3 cup

8 tablespoons Kewpie mayonnaise
8 teaspoons Sriracha or other hot sauce, or to taste

1. Put mayonnaise and hot sauce into a bowl, and combine with a whisk until well blended.

2. Store in a squirt bottle for easiest use.


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